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Who Pays for Paradise Paved

by Kate Trainor on October 4, 2007

parkinglot(1) Who Pays for Paradise PavedSalon.com just published a great, comprehensive article about one of the more hidden environmental costs of automobiles: parking spots.

Some U.S. cities are getting hip and rethinking their car-centric attitudes. There are exciting things happening in places like Boston and New York. These are dense cities amenable to things we at Carectomy are fond of: walking, biking, public transportation. Activists are reacting to the amount of public space wasted to provide subsidized parking.

The depth of the environmental effects of “free” or subsidized parking is incredible. Environmentally intensive materials go into the actual paving; resources go into the construction and maintenance; and the massive amount of pavement dramatically increases water and heavy-metal runoff. The parking spots themselves make urban real estate more expensive, increase urban sprawl, increase CO2 production, and contribute to global warming.

The paved-over land is a large contributor to the "urban heat island effect," prevalent in places like Phoenix, AZ. Phoenix used to be a desert. Thanks to its sprawling, car-based design, the pavement absorbs solar heat during the day and emits the heat at night. No longer does the temperature dip dramatically at night (as it should in a desert). In fact, the summer time overnight LOWS are approaching 100 degrees!

The history of the parking spot is an interesting one. Largely, city regulations have imposed the burden of free parking spots on businesses.

From Salon.com

Americans don’t object, because they aren’t aware of the myriad costs of parking, which remain hidden. In large part, it’s business owners, including commercial and residential landlords, who pay to provide parking places. They then pass on those costs to us in slightly higher prices for rent and every hamburger sold.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. As parking lots proliferate, they decrease density and increase sprawl. In 1961, when the city of Oakland, Calif., started requiring apartments to have one parking space per apartment, housing costs per apartment increased by 18 percent, and urban density declined by 30 percent. It’s a pattern that’s spread across the country.

In cities, the parking lots themselves are black holes in the urban fabric, making city streets less walkable. One landscape architect compares them to "cavities" in the cityscape. Downtown Albuquerque, N.M., now devotes more land to parking than all other land uses combined. Half of downtown Buffalo, N.Y., is devoted to parking. And one study of Olympia, Wash., found that parking and driveways occupied twice as much land as the buildings that they served.

Getting rid of parking spaces will just add to drivers’ frustrations and cause more circling for parking spots (and increased emissions). The solution: increase the cost of parking to full market rate. This will naturally lead to expensive parking where people want to be (high demand) and cheap parking for people willing to walk a little. Let’s face it, as a nation we can use the little bit of extra exercise. And just maybe, it’ll encourage people to extract themselves from their death-machines.

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